Target Training: Teach Your Dog To Go To A Place

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DREW WEBSTER, CPDT-KA

 

Having a place where your dog will go and stay on command is a great way to teach self-control.  It prevents unwanted behaviors when greeting strangers in the home or it can be a redirect command when your dog is begging at the table. Training “Go to your rug” should be fun for you and your dog and is best taught as a game using the same attitude and energy that you use in play. Things to remember:

  1. The rug is a purely positive place.  Practice first as a game then add distractions like knocking on the door as the cue to run to the rug for cookies.
  2. Start with one rug; then you will have to move the location of the rug for proofing and generalizing the behavior to different objects and places.
  3. For learning purposes, initially pick up the rug when you are not actively training your dog.
  4. The rug can be used as target training for excited dogs, nervous and shy dogs, to help when people come into your home or to keep your dog from begging under the table while you eat.
Dog laying on a rug demonstrating training.

Target training with a rug.

Step 1

Before you set the rug down, get a handful of yummy treats ready (or your dog’s favorite toy).  Get your dog’s attention and then place the rug on the floor.  Immediately toss a treat onto the rug for your dog to eat.  It will be helpful to also use your reward word to mark this new behavior as soon as any of your dog’s paws touch the rug, I say “YES!” in an excited manner. As soon as your dog finishes the treat on the rug, lure your dog off the rug by walking away and encourage your dog to follow.  After he follows you, get his attention and say “Ready? Go to your rug” and lure him back to the rug, then reward for stepping onto it.  Repeat this multiple times until your dog starts to learn he should run toward the rug.

Step 2

After your dog is familiar with the rug, do not toss treats onto the rug right away but let your dog choose to go toward the rug without you walking all the way there with him every time. This means teaching him to go from 1 foot away, then 3 feet and 5 feet and so on. As soon as your dog moves over to the rug on his own, say “YES” (or your reward word) and then toss a treat on the  rug.  Your dog will get better and better at targeting the rug, you can lure him into a sit or a down at this point when he gets there if you like and wait to reward until you get the behavior you like. Then move the rug a few feet away and then set it down again, repeating the process from the beginning to encourage targeting the rug and not just that area of your home.

Step 3

Once the dog understands the verbal cue or signal for “Go To Your Rug”, begin to build speed and distance as you use the words “go to your rug”.  Get your dog excited by using the same words you use during play, like “ready, set, GO…!” and send your dog onto the rug.  When your dog runs to the rug to eat the treat use your reward word and praise. After a few reliable repetitions like this, you can start to add a release before having the dog get his reward so he learns to go to the rug, wait for a second and then release to “OK” and then get rewarded for the whole process when he returns to you.

Step 4

With your dog reliably going onto the rug using the command, you can begin to increase the difficulty of the command by waiting for longer and longer periods of time before rewarding it.  Work slowly to increase the duration that your dog stays on the rug.  When your dog reliably stays on the rug, you may begin using the “Wait on your rug” command.  Eventually the whole game of going to the rug and waiting can be shortened to “RUG” once you have a reliable pattern behavior.

Note - If using the “RUG” when people come over, praise your dog for holding the rug while people come in, don’t have people approach your dog on the rug. You can release him and say “ok, come say hi”, or if he is worried about new people, have the new person toss the high value treats to him on the rug. You can even practice by adding a knock or door bell ring in the beginning before asking your dog to go to the rug.

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